1. McNutt pleads guilty to sexual assault offences
This item is written by Tim Bousquet.
Yesterday, Michael McNutt pleaded guilty to offences related to the sexual abuse (and one assault) of 34 boys over the course of 20 years. McNutt was facing 90 charges; the remainder of the charges will be dismissed at sentencing later this summer.
The events leading to yesterday’s guilty plea took place between 1970 and 1989.
In 2017, the Halifax Examiner broke the story of the allegations against McNutt:
In the 1970s and 1980s [McNutt] was a math and science teacher at Sir Robert Borden Junior High in Dartmouth. He then briefly left teaching to work at a Wendy’s restaurant, but within a year or two returned as a substitute teacher at St. Joseph’s–Alexander MacKay and Westmount schools in north end Halifax, and possibly also at Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherrybrook. He also coached hockey, baseball, and football teams. McNutt continued as a substitute teacher until 1994, when he pleaded guilty of sexually assaulting a male student in 1987. After that conviction, McNutt was employed for seven years at the KFC on Spring Garden Road, working his way up to a supervisor position. He has since retired.
McNutt still lives in the family home in north end Halifax.
I’ve read through the many court documents related to McNutt, and have interviewed several of his victims. It’s clear that this is not just about the criminal actions of one man, but additionally about institutions that knew, or should have known, about McNutt’s actions, and yet people in positions of power in those institutions either ignored it or encouraged him to leave their particular institution, which allowed him to go on to the next institution to continue his attacks.
There are other dimensions to this story as well, and the victims will know what I’m talking about. If any other victims wish to speak with me, please get in touch; I can assure I won’t use your names unless you want them used.
2. How COVID-19 social stigma has impacted Nova Scotians
The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free
Yvette d’Entremont talks with Robert Huish, a professor of international development at Dalhousie University, who’s studying cultural stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic. Huish was one of 40 recipients who received funding through the newly created Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Huish’s research will look into consequences and outcomes of cultural stigma from COVID-19 ordinances, but he’ll also look at the stigma faced by those who are working in the public during COVID-19, such as essential workers, food delivery service people and those working in pharmacies, frontline workers at grocery and liquor stores, and taxi drivers. Huish says stigma has serious consequences on physical and mental well being.
Throughout human history, any time that there’s been a quarantine put in place, there’s always been stigmatization that has gone along with it. We’ve seen that develop during the COVID-19 pandemic. This work is about understanding what that experience of stigma is like and for who.
Jacqueline Cho, an 18-year-old student from Bedford tells d’Entremont she’s noticed a difference in the way people treat her.
I’m Korean, so a lot of the stigma that I personally faced really had to do with people who were looking for people who seemed to fit the description of being Chinese. They didn’t wait and ask ‘What ethnicity are you?’ before espousing some verbiage.
Cho says her family and friends have experienced stigma, too, but Huish’s research gives her hope.
Especially for preventing COVID-19 or taking care of Asian people or anyone else who might be facing stigma. That was heartening. And whenever I saw that, it tended to be younger people so I am hoping that sentiment continues on.
Read the full story here.
3. COVID-19 briefing, the last one for a while
Mary Campbell at the Cape Breton Spectator brings us the daily update on COVID-19. This will be the last briefing with Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang for a bit, as Strang is taking time off to have skin cancer treatment in New Brunswick. Of course, Strang will follow the 14-day self-isolation rule when he gets home.
On Monday, visits can start again at long-term-care facilities and homes for people with disabilities. Those visits have to be outside, though, with everyone six feet apart. Only two visitors will be permitted at a time and they will be screened first, must wear a mask, and are asked not to visit if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Strang pointed out not all facilities will be ready by Monday and he asked that people be patient.
Strang also talked about the issue around the data, which has been confusing. Campbell writes:
Strang also addressed the reconciliation of data, saying today’s numbers are up-to-date and are all coming from Panorama, the Public Health data system. The reconciliation has resulted in a few changes: the recovered category is now called “resolved” to better reflect the fact that the case has been closed by Public Health, meaning all follow-up and contact-tracing has been completed. (Asked if he was aware of any deaths still under investigation, Strang said he was not.) Case numbers are now given by the Zone in which the individual lives rather than the one in which the sample was taken for testing.
There were no new cases today, no deaths, and the last case at Northwood has been resolved.
Read the full story here.
As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a discounted joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
4. Halifax council wants a park plan for Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes
In the last few years, the city has denied a request from developer Annapolis Group and made a few land purchases, all with the goal of creating city parkland. But Zane Woodford learns advocates are concerned there’s no larger plan to do that.
Woodford reports that councillor Richard Zurawski brought forth a motion during Tuesday’s council meeting asking for a staff report on a plan. “The staff report is required because of the changing nature of our municipal budgets, and because of threats to the existing forests from fire, pests, and overuse,” Zurawski says.
5. Atlantic Canada bubble: Don’t blow it
It looks like we’ll have the chance to travel around Atlantic Canada starting early July. Wayne Thibodeau with CBC reports on the news the four premiers met on Wednesday night to talk about it, although the idea has been discussed for some time now.
P.E.I. Premier Denny King says they’re committing to allowing safe and easy travel around the region without requiring that people self-isolate.
There seems to be agreement from all premiers that if the epidemiology continues on the trajectory that it’s on that we could probably see some Atlantic bubbling sometime in early July.
If something were to happen that might cause one of the provinces to hold back, we might very well see two provinces start, another one may join a few days later so we don’t really have a hard and fast date.
New Brunswick is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Campbellton area, so there are 29 active cases across the province. There haven’t been any new confirmed cases in P.E.I. in two weeks, while Newfoundland and Labrador has just seen one positive case in the same period of time.
King says anyone travelling will still have to follow public health directives like physical distancing and hand washing.
It won’t be a situation where the cars will run as freely as ever across the bridge. We will have information sessions and screening opportunities at our points of entry and that will continue. I don’t see that stopping for a good part of the summer.
Portrait of slavery in Canada
In the McCord Museum in Montreal, there’s a painting that tells a bit of the story of slavery in Canada. Dr. Charmaine Nelson, a professor of art history at McGill University, knows the story of the painting well. Nelson first learned about the painting, called Portrait of a Haitian Woman, when she was studying art history at Concordia. She saw the painting in the book A Concise History of Canadian Painting by Dennis Reid, who was a curator at Art Gallery of Ontario and a professor of art history at the University of Toronto.
As a student, I was disappointed with his knowledge of the image, which didn’t mention at all the naming of the Black woman as an enslaved woman in the title. It was completely glossed over. [Barry] Lord was the first art historian I found who mentioned she was enslaved and mentioned the way she was depicted was inherently sexually exploitative … In print, Lord was the only one before me to point this out.
The painting was done in 1786 by French Canadian artist François Malépart de Beaucourt, who is well known in Canadian art history as the first Canadian artist to train in Europe. Portrait of a Haitian Woman is one of his most famous paintings. (Nelson wrote more about the portrait here).
While Nelson teaches art history, she is self-taught in Transatlantic Slavery Studies, too, including those histories in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Jamaica. She’s published seven books and her latest single-authored book is Slavery, Geography and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica.
When I saw the painting, I knew enough because of my own interest and because of my family history—both of my parents were born in Jamaica and came to Canada in the 1960s—so because of that history I understood that if this woman was being called a slave and her breast was being exposed it would not have been her choice to do so. I understood enough to understand there needed to be something said about the coercion and nature of how she even came to sit for the portrait in the first place.
Nelson has studied this painting, its origins, and subject for years, and says the woman in the painting is likely Marie-Thérèse-Zémire, one of two Black slaves owned by Beaucourt’s wife, Benoite Gaétant, the daughter of Beaucourt’s instructor in France.
Zémire would have been about 15 when this portrait was done. Although the painting was likely done while Beaucourt and his wife were living in Saint-Domingue, present-day Haiti, a few years before the revolution. Says Nelson:
It was customary for white men and women to sexually exploit their enslaved Black people, especially women who they considered “breeders.” Any child born to an enslaved woman, was born a slave because their mother was a slave. To get an enslaved woman pregnant was to get more property. If you own her, you own the child.
Beaucourt and his wife went to Montreal, via Philadelphia, bringing Zémire with them. Zémire died there in 1800 at the age of 29.
Zémire would have been one of many slaves brought to Canada around the same time, arriving in ports like Montreal and Halifax as what Nelson calls “secondary cargo” on merchant ships from the West Indies carrying primary cargo like coffee, sugar, rum, and molasses. Nelson believes Beaucourt, his wife, and Zémire travelled via a ship carrying coffee. Unlike slave ships from Africa that carried hundreds of enslaved African, shackled in the hulls of the ships for the weeks’-long voyages, smaller groups of about five, 10, or 15 enslaved Blacks travelled on these merchant ships.
Nelson says when she talks with Canadians who do admit slavery happened here, they will often say smaller populations of slaves meant better treatment for those people.
I always say, “My goodness, how did you come up with that? That fewer people means better treatment?”
But instead, Nelson points out those smaller populations often meant more isolation for those who were enslaved. They lived in very close proximity with their white owners, under constant surveillance. They had to get accustomed to the climate, food, and clothing. They lost their culture, language, and spirituality.
We haven’t even begun to start to think about the capacity of slave people to congregate away from the prying eyes of slave owners.
In the painting, Zémire is depicted with a smile and her breast out of her blouse. Nelson says the pose and her facial expressions wouldn’t have been her own, but rather how Beaucourt wanted to present her to the world. Nelson says Zémire would have sat for that painting over several sittings, perhaps over days or months. Rich white patrons controlled how they were depicted in portraits. In this case, the painter was also the patron and the owner of the sitter, Zémire.
We really have to get that, otherwise the message of the portrait conveys to us is that she’s freely and happily exposing her body to us, juxtaposed with the tropical fruit and the message is explicit: Take of my body and you take of this fruit. That is not her. That is Francoise. He is the slave owner, the artist, and the patron. She is just the sitter. He has complete control over her. The sexual exploitation of women and men is fundamentally part of slavery.
Nelson says a painting like this is not only rare in Canada, but it’s rare in the West. While there are other paintings of enslaved women and men, many aren’t finished or signed by the author. Paintings that did include enslaved people were those of young men or boys, usually doing work. Those paintings, like the one of Zemire, were signs of status for white slave owners. Nelson says there’s no evidence Beaucourt ever sold the painting. She says she speculates he used the portrait and others as a calling card for his newly European artistic skills. The painting was likely displayed in his house or studio so new clients could see it as a sign of what he could do. Nelson says male patrons would have viewed that painting of Zemire’s exposed body.
When I look at the portrait, with more research, it’s more real and more profound to me that I see coercion in the production of the portrait as well. How she came to sit for it, she’s not the owner of it, she’s has no place to display it. Even if she wanted to say no, she wasn’t allowed to say no as a possession of this artist.
Nelson and I talked for about an hour on her knowledge of slavery in Canada, including about fugitive ads, which she uses to learn more about the lives of slaves in Canada. Fugitive ads were posted in newspapers, including in Halifax, by white owners whose slaves escaped. These ads were very detailed and included information like the height, body type, hair texture, clothing, of the person, as well as scars and brandings made by their owners. Nelson told me about one such fugitive ad in Halifax for a young girl named Thursday who escaped her white owner, John Rock. The ad mentions Thursday has a lump above her eye, likely from being hit in the face before she ran away. Nelson searches the ads until she finds out if the person was captured. She eventually found Thursday in Rock’s estate inventory after his death. She was sold to a new owner.
Nelson has also been learning about the story of an enslaved man named Joe who she traced through several fugitive ads in newspapers in Quebec. She calls him the “most resistant slave in Canadian history.”
Nelson says this is the time to do the work, read the books, do the research, because the history of slavery is connected to what’s happening now.
The objectification and dehumanization of Mr. [George] Floyd that led to those four officers being able to kneel on him or stand by and watch that happen over a period of almost nine minutes, you can draw a direct line from that injustice to slavery. That’s where it came from, that’s what we’re still living with, and that’s what has to stop.
And she says slavery is not just Black history that should only be remembered in February during Black History Month. She says besides herself, there are other scholars who have studied slavery in Canada, like Harvey Amani Whitfield at the University of Vermont, whose current book is Biographical Sketches of Black Slaves in Atlantic Canada, and the late Marcel Trudel, who was one of the masters of contemporary Québec historiography.
Who were the slave owners? Who were the ship captains? Who were the West Indian merchants? These were all white people. So even white people who didn’t directly own slave people, somehow their survival in Halifax … you could not be wear something, buy something that had nothing to do with slavery. People were complicit.
Slavery is also a white Canadian history. Slavery is not a Black history. Part of that is how it’s coded it so we can dismiss it. Slavery is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial history that’s transpired over 400 years … This is everyone’s history. We have to all get onboard.
I am really trying to avoid Twitter lately because — well, a whole bunch of reasons — but I logged in this morning and saw an exchange between a woman named Cait in Saint John and the Saint John Police. I was scrolling back, as much as my brain will allow today, and it seems it started when Cait shared a story in tweet about her friend who was sexually assaulted, reported that assault to the Saint John Police, who Cait says told her the assault wasn’t “violent” enough and sent her home.
There was a back-and-forth over the last few days, and Cait tweeted out this:
Which led to this response from the Saint John Police:
And then the Saint John Police did this:
But then they changed their mind:
And privacy lawyer David Fraser tweeted this out:
Anyway, I’m logging off Twitter, after I tweet out Morning File, of course, but you can follow it all here.
In the harbour
11:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
16:00: Algoma Mariner, bulker, moves from Pier 25 to National Gypsum
16:00: Taipei Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
The forecast is calling for rain and cloudy days for the next several days (we know that will change), so I think I will head out for a drive somewhere later…